December 2, 2009

Paparazzi Cry `No Fair' as N.Y.C Tightens Access to Film Shoots

 Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- When paparazzo Steve Sands arrived at the Coney Island set of Will Ferrell’s movie “The Other Guys” in mid-November, he caught a break. That day they were filming New York Yankee Derek Jeter in a cameo.

Sands got shots that he sold to the celebrity magazine InTouch, among other outlets, and notched what he called a handsome payday.

 A 30-year veteran of the camera ambush, Sands worries that those opportunities, gleaned from regular visits to New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, will disappear since New York City ended its weekly Wednesday public viewing of film-shoot permits yesterday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

 The permits contained information on filming locations for movies and television shows. The movies “Precious” and “It’s Complicated,” which stars Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, were shot in New York City. The TV shows “30 Rock,” “Gossip Girls,” “The Good Wife,” “Ugly Betty” and “White Collar” also use city locations.

“There are so many projects in New York, so that’s why you go to the mayor’s office,” said Sands, who sported the paparazzo’s typical unshaven face and disheveled hair. “Now the city is going to make it hard for us to find this information. They’re taking away our rights.”

Requests to view the film-shoot permits now have to be made by mail or e-mail through New York State’s Freedom of Information Law.

“We’re looking to try to have a system to get back to people within a week,” said Marybeth Ihle, a city spokeswoman.

Stolen Documents

The city decided to end the public viewings because of space constraints and reports of stolen documents, Ihle said. The system had been in place for longer than anyone at the film office could recall, Ihle said. The best estimate was more than 15 years.

 To Chris Doherty, president of INF, a New York-based celebrity-photo agency, the decision is an attack on the paparazzi and an effort to cull favor with the film and TV industry that Ihle said contributes about $5 billion a year to the city’s economy.

“There are suggestions that the film industry is getting annoyed with the number of people showing up at these shoots,” Doherty said. “But these are public records that help us to do our job.” Ihle denied that outside pressure prompted the change.

To be sure, the advent of Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Web sites such as, dedicated to tracking film shoots and celebrity whereabouts, has made once-elusive information almost commonplace, Doherty said. Still, the film office is a dependable source for leads, he said.

‘Catch-22 Situation’

Doherty, whose agency employs about 30 people in New York and Los Angeles, said he was wary about the Freedom of Information process because of the potential for long waits and because it largely requires photographers to know what they’re looking for.

 “If we don’t know the document exists, how can we ask for it? It’s a Catch-22 situation,” he said.

Norman Siegel, a civil-rights lawyer, said the decision appeared to favor one set of New Yorkers and even non-New Yorkers (TV and movie people) over another (paparazzi and not- so-famous actors who use the listings to seek walk-on leads.)

“The fact that the city has been doing this for so long says that at one point they thought this was something they should do,” Siegel said. “It’s possible the city can do what it’s doing legally but whether it should be doing it is another issue.”

Crowd Control

James Devaney, 32, has placed his photos of Angelina Jolie, Katie Holmes and others in People and Star magazines and the New York Post newspaper. Besides checking the permits, he has gotten tips from film-production people and even public-relations agents. Celebrities often want the publicity afforded by the paparazzi, he said. Still, he’s torn about the city’s change in policy.

“What the city is doing isn’t right,” said Devaney, who has been photographing celebrities for 12 years. “Then again, film shoots have gotten really crowded, so I kind of wondered why it took so long for them to do this.”

Sam Dickerson, a photo editor at Splash News & Picture Agency, said it’s common to find 10 to 12 people waiting to get into the permit office. The city allows just two people at a time to view the documents, and only for 30 minutes.

 “People are going to have to lean a lot heavier on blogs and Twitter and sightings than just going down to the permit office,” said Dickerson, whose agency’s photos adorned the Nov. 15 cover of the New York Times’s Sunday Styles section.

As he has done for years, Sands went down to the city’s film office on Broadway in mid-November a week after the new permit viewing process was announced. For a half-hour he leafed through a stack of the green onion-paper documents before being told his time was up.

“The film office can be a good place but there are just too many photographers, Web sites and paparazzi agencies now,” Sands said. “They killed the golden goose.”

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